Elfyn Evans extended his advantage at the head of Rallye Monte-Carlo on SS5 as Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier hounded Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville for second place.
Evans began Friday in fourth overall but immediately stormed up to second by setting the fastest time on the leg’s opening test.
The Toyota driver duly took a clean sweep of all the morning’s stages, winning the 12.8 miles of Avançon – Notre-Dame-Du-Lais by 4.2 seconds to establish a lead of 8.9s heading into the afternoon.
“Yeah it’s been good,” Evans declared. “[The] feeling has generally been pretty good in the car [and] the tyre call [four super-softs, two softs] has been correct as well so thanks for the team on the input for that.”
Ogier set the second-quickest time on SS5 to close to within 0.8s of Neuville but couldn’t match the searing pace of team-mate Evans – who is now 9.7s ahead.
“[We are] still learning the car,” Ogier admitted. “I’m not confident every time it’s bumpy. It’s OK, I think we’ve done a decent job.”
Neuville meanwhile is firmly within Ogier’s clutches, having slipped down to second from the rally lead at the start of the morning.
The Belgian struggled on SS4 but was happier with his performance on Avançon – Notre-Dame-Du-Lais
“It was a better stage for me but tricky conditions,” he said. “The road was more slippery than the gravel crew have seen as the humidity is coming from the ground and drops [of rain] are falling. The feeling in the car was better but still not how I’d like it to go.”
Ott Tänak had been firmly in the mix on his first rally for new team Hyundai but suffered a terrifying, high-speed accident on the loop’s second stage, flying off the road over a compression.
Thankfully he and co-driver Martin Järveoja are uninjured – though they are having precautionary checks in hospital – but it’s a major blow to their title defence.
Their crash promoted Sébastien Loeb up to fourth, but the nine-time world champion confessed he “could not do more” with the dirty stage conditions he was faced with.
Esapekka Lappi is fifth for M-Sport but lost over 10s with a trip into a field on SS5: “I can’t find any more to be honest, I was on the limit and clearly over it on the braking,” he said.
Kalle Rovanperä nicked Lappi by 0.7s in SS5 but remains 24.6s behind his compatriot in sixth. Takamoto Katsuta is seventh ahead of WRC3 and WRC2 leaders Eric Camilli and Ole Christian Veiby.
Teemu Suninen opened the road on Friday morning after retiring on Thursday night with transmission failure.
He survived a wayward cross-handed moment on SS5 to climb up the leaderboard towards the top 20, having started the leg in 55th.
Gus Greensmith’s Monte-Carlo adventure has been calamitous thus far. Along with both his M-Sport team-mates he suffered water temperature issues on Thursday’s opening stage before his Fiesta WRC developed a turbo problem on the following test. He began the leg in eighth place but retired on Friday’s first stage as he dropped his Ford down a bank when recovering from a spin.
Leading positions after SS5
1 Evans (Toyota)
2 Neuville (Hyundai) +8.9s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +9.7s
4 Loeb (Hyundai) +48.4s
5 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +1m29.9s
6 Rovanperä (Toyota) +1m54.5s
7 Katsuta (Toyota) +4m10.8s
8 Camilli (Citroën) +4m42.8s
9 Veiby (Hyundai) +5m09.9s
10 Ciamin (Citroën) +5m48.7s